Michael C. Loui
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ethics and Engineering will consider ethical issues in the practice of engineering: safety and liability, professional responsibility to clients and employers, legal obligations, codes of ethics, whistle-blowing, and career choice. The course will relate general ethical theory to concrete problems in engineering, using readings, videotapes, scenarios, and case studies. Class sessions will vary: some possibilities are a discussion in small groups on a software liability scenario, a focused discussion of the full class on bribery, a formal debate on a conflict of interest dilemma, a role play of a meeting of characters in a scenario, and a brief lecture on protection of intellectual property. Through these activities, the course studies the fundamental structure of human personhood, the grounding of moral action, and the development of moral character as the precondition of integral performance in a profession.
Although there will be no examinations, all class members will write and revise a personal mission statement (three pages), three response papers (from three to five pages each), and one research paper (eleven or more pages).
A response paper will typically analyze either an article or a case. For an article analysis, the student will summarize and critically examine the main points of one of the articles among the readings. The student will identify the author's implicit assumptions and perspectives, and evaluate the validity or strength of the arguments. For a case analysis, the student will identify the factual issues and conceptual issues, determine the obligations and responsibilities of the actors, assess the relevant ethical values, and propose possible solutions. Other kinds of response papers may be assigned.
For the research paper, the student will select a specific issue in engineering ethics not covered in the course, e.g., the privacy of electronic mail, the ethics of testifying as a partisan expert witness, the preferential treatment of women in engineering, or the morality of pollution in less-developed countries with weak environmental standards. The student will read the scholarly literature and write a research paper to support a thesis. Also, each student will make a oral presentation of his or her research project.
ECE/PHIL 316 satisfies the campus General Education requirements for Advanced Composition (formerly called Composition II) and for Humanities and the Arts (Historical and Philosophical Perspectives).
For the benefits of learning engineering ethics, see an article in ASEE Prism.
Last modified on February 4, 2014